All Pet Foods are Not Created Equal and That Includes Raw

All Pet Foods are Not Created Equal and That Includes Raw
A raw food diet is keeping 22 y.o. Panda in outstandingly good health.

As neither a vet, nor a nutritionist, I will not give advice or recommend a diet for your pet here. However, I have gotten to know many pets very well in recent years as a sitter and their differing diets and fitness have certainly raised my curiosity about the role of nutrition in pet health. Here are my observations and a few resources if you have the same curiosity.

Recently I had the pleasure of spending a few days with Panda, pictured above, whom I nicknamed Mr. Jingles after the supernaturally long-lived mouse in The Green Mile.

Panda is 22 years old.

I promise if you met him and I told you he were 8 or 9, you wouldn't doubt me for a second. His luxuriant coat is thick and sleek. He is agile, well-muscled, purrs like a motorboat and has clear, beautiful eyes. He is so bad-ass that he can stop a howling pack of beagles in their tracks with a single low rumble and a "Feelin' lucky, punks?" look in his eye. He's a specimen that commands respect.

madeleine-3As for that pack of rescue beagles...they range in age from 10 to 16, and are likewise thriving although the eldest is no longer able to run with the rest of them. This is particularly impressive given that they came from rough backgrounds. One's misshapen jaw stands as testament to the horrendous conditions endured by breeder dogs in the puppy mills which supply pet retailers with their bouncy inventory.

How can these seniors all be thriving?

For this family, a combination of diet and holistic veterinary care has been the answer. In terms of diet, their owner is a staunch advocate of a species-appropriate raw diet, a trend that is growing among pet guardians eager to provide optimal nutrition for their charges. (Raw Bistro is this owner's food of choice.)

This gorgeous boy has numerous food allergies that have taken a raw diet and acupuncture to get under control.

This gorgeous boy has numerous food allergies that have taken a raw diet and acupuncture to get under control.

Raw diets are not without their challenges, however. Cost can be prohibitive for some and DIYers can get their pets into serious trouble if they don't know what they are doing. And homemade raw diets do require a tolerance for various animal parts appearing in one's fridge. My current guest has been scarfing up chicken feet and tendons while carefully leaving sardine heads on my dining room floor this week. I've also handed out my share of raw turkey and duck necks.

For those who opt to buy their raw diets pre-packaged, there is still much to learn. If you have scanned pet food aisles (and freezers), particularly at boutique pet stores, the ever-expanding choices (and price tags) can be daunting.

What qualifies as raw anyway? Is raw kibble the same as freeze-dried, the same as frozen raw patties?

I was inspired to dig a little deeper into this question when one of my canine friends had a terrible experience with raw kibble. Terrible like her abdomen writhed as though aliens were about to pop out at any time. Terrible like you could barely sit in the same room for the emissions. It. was. BAD.

Turns out no, these various forms of raw food aren't providing comparable nutrition. The processing required to turn raw ingredients into raw kibble and freeze-dried patties can significantly alter the quality.

And yet, the label still says raw and isn't raw kibble better than conventional kibble? I honestly don't know.  On the surface, it seems like it must be so. When faced with the decision, more and more folks are choosing the apparent upgrade. Heck, that's what I would have done.

This beauty has thrived with a combination of traditional and holistic vet attention although dietary issues continue to be a challenge.  P.S. This former puppy mill mom reminds you to adopt, don't shop.

This beauty has thrived with a combination of traditional and holistic vet attention although dietary issues continue to be a challenge.
P.S. This former puppy mill mom reminds you to adopt, don't shop.

As a result, far too many well-intended pet guardians are trying really hard, spending lots of money in an effort to do the right thing for their pets, only to end up feeling discouraged and disillusioned when the results are poor. I know without question the guardian of the little gal on raw kibble has practically moved heaven and earth to bring this once unable-to-stand former puppy mill mom to a level of health that had her walking a full hour with me just last week. She's a little miracle, due in no small part to her guardians advocacy but that food was a disaster for her.

So, yes, it IS complex and can be incredibly frustrating. I've been there. It took me a year of experimenting and tossing out countless half eaten cans of expensive food to find a variety my own dog could tolerate and raw was not heavily on the scene yet.

Bottom line: Pet owners today DO have many choices to make, regardless of whether they are choosing raw or a conventional food options.

Choice #1: Will you set aside some time to dig a little deeper?

Not everyone is surrounded by dogs and pet professionals like I am now and when I look back at my early pets...Oh, to do it over again! So I'm with you guys...everyone is doing the best they can with the knowledge and resources they have at any given time. We all start where we're at.

Your pet food choice may be heavily determined by your wallet, but even so, getting the biggest nutritional bang for your pet food dollar is a wise investment. Better nutrition can lead to fewer vet costs, after all. And besides, you want your companion to be able to do things with you for a long time and supporting their health is a way to do that.

We don't all have time to research all the ins and outs of the pet food industry , and you may not ever get around to watching Pet Fooled, but if you are pressed for time and at least want to look up the food you are currently feeding your dog, check out Dog Food Advisor and see what they have to say. You can also sign up for recall alerts while you are there.

Cat owners will learn a lot by visiting this article at Reviews.com. Their team researched 1,759 cat food formulas, spent months analyzing the cat food industry, and surveyed 97 veterinary professionals, as well as hundreds of devoted cat owners. Despite felines’ complicated dietary needs, they were only able to identify 9 formulas that contained high-quality, risk-free ingredients.

For both dog and cat owners, if you want a general overview of your pet food options from best to worst, here is a great overview article by Dr. Karen Becker.

The key is to do the best you can with what you have. A little research now will help set your pet on the path to optimal health for years to come.

If you have found resources that have been particularly helpful, please leave in the comments (although spam and other such nonsense will be deleted).

Want to make sure you see future posts? Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.

Filed under: Pet Health and Safety

Leave a comment